Powered by a two-run, ninth-inning double by Matt Kemp, the Dodgers survived a two-pitch, blister-shortened outing from Rich Hill, an unsuccessful strategic gambit by manager Dave Roberts and a dominant performance from Nationals ace Max Scherzer to sweep a doubleheader at Nationals Park.
Kemp came off the bench to send the Dodgers to a 5-4 victory in the nightcap after the team rode Ross Stripling’s right arm for a 4-1 victory earlier in the day.
Kemp doubled off Nationals closer Sean Doolittle after singles by catcher Austin Barnes and second baseman Logan Forsythe. The hit brought his dugout to life as the Dodgers (19-26) celebrated their third victory in a row. Kenley Jansen arrived in the ninth inning for his second save of the day — having not pitched in a save situation since May 9.
“Today,” Kemp said, “was a good day.”
Even after resembling their 2017 version for 18 innings, the Dodgers did not exit the day unscathed. Hill left the second game after only two pitches. The blister ruptured and forced his exit. The issues with Hill’s finger dated back to April 14, when he cracked a nail before suffering a subsequent infection and developing a blister. Little that occurred on Saturday qualified as a surprise.
Hill will be placed on the disabled list for the second time this season. He indicated the injury resembled the sizable wound he dealt with in 2016, when the Dodgers first acquired him from Oakland. Hill acknowledged he was unsure how to solve this chronic issue.
“As frustrating as it is for everyone else,” Hill said, “I feel like it’s three times as bad for me.”
The blister shortened Hill’s last start. The Dodgers still allowed Hill to take the mound in the nightcap of the doubleheader without a long reliever available in the bullpen, having deployed their bullpen in routine fashion in the day’s first game as Stripling set a career high with nine strikeouts.
Early in the first game, Stripling noted the expansiveness of umpire Mike Estabrook’s strike zone. Estabrook rewarded the pitchers with strikes beneath the usual contours of the zone, a factoid that Stripling and catcher Yasmani Grandal capitalized on. After an RBI single by Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper in the third, Stripling allowed only one additional hit.
Stripling had struck out the side in the first inning; he repeated the feat in the sixth, as Harper and Matt Adams both watched as offspeed pitches snapped into Grandal’s glove. Harper stared at a slider. Adams took a looping curveball.
The Dodgers generated most of their support through an unlikely source: productive outs. Joc Pederson led the day off with a triple against Nationals starter Tanner Roark and scored on a sacrifice fly by Grandal. Cody Bellinger beat out a double play ball to drive in a run in the third. After doubling home a run in the sixth, Max Muncy added a sacrifice fly in the seventh.
“We did some good situational hitting today,” Roberts said in between games.
Stripling (1-1, 2.08 earned-run average) collected his first victory of the season.He has remained flexible despite limited information provided by his employers.
“No one’s even really told me what I’m doing,” Stripling said. “They’re like ‘Hey, you’ve got a bullpen today.’ ‘OK, does that set me up for Saturday?’ They’re like, ‘Yeah.’ All right, sweet.”
After the game, Stripling became the first Dodgers official to reveal anything resembling a timetable for Kershaw, suggesting Kershaw could return within 10 days. At that point the team would need to decide if Stripling would remain a starter, had Hill not scuttled that debate before it could take place.
Hill took the mound with a one-run lead. Pederson nearly matched his feat from earlier in the day. This time, he doubled off Scherzer to start the game. Muncy hit a changeup into left field for an RBI single. Muncy added a solo homer in the fifth off Scherzer, who struck out 13 in seven innings.
Hill was pitching for the third time since cracking his fingernail. After two pitches, television cameras captured a chunk of flesh protruding from the digit.
“It was clearly sliced, essentially,” Roberts said. “This is as bad as I’ve seen it, since he’s been here.”
Added Hill: “It’s as bad as it was two years ago.”
That left an entire game for this beleaguered bullpen to complete. The group responded to the challenge with some of its best work of the season. Washington did not record a hit until the sixth inning. Scott Alexander and Pedro Baez each contributed two scoreless innings. Yimi Garcia pitched a clean fifth inning before returning for the sixth.
Trea Turner greeted Garcia with a double. Roberts sent Tony Cingrani to face Harper. Cingrani clipped Harper with a slider. Two batters later, he gave up a two-out RBI double to first baseman Mark Reynolds. After Cingrani threw a pair of balls to outfielder Michael A. Taylor, Roberts elected to intentionally walk Taylor and bring in right-hander Daniel Hudson despite Taylor’s struggles to hit this season.
Washington manager Dave Martinez countered with left-handed-hitting Adams off his bench, hitting for catcher Pedro Severino. Roberts was unsure if Martinez would remove his catcher that early in the game. Martinez took the risk, and Adams connected with a two-run single. Scherzer added an RBI single to take a two-run lead.
The Dodgers declined to roll over. A solo homer by Bellinger halved the deficit in the eighth. Kemp came through in the ninth.
“That was the biggest hit, for sure, for him this year, and for us,” Roberts said. “And probably the biggest win.”